The Conservative government
of Prime Minister Steven Harper has only been in office for a few weeks,
but it is already sending strong signals that cannabis and cannabis-related
businesses will be the subjects of unwanted government attention.
Last week, the Chronicle reported on Canada's
first major bust of a seed-selling concern, and one of the people we
interviewed was Chris Godwin, proprietor of the Up in Smoke cannabis café
in Hamilton, Ontario, on the lakeshore about 50 miles southwest of Toronto.
On Wednesday, Up in Smoke
was raided, and Godwin and two employees were taken to jail. Godwin
is charged with possession and trafficking in marijuana, one employee was
charged with possession and trafficking cookies containing marijuana, and
the other employee was charged with marijuana possession. The bust
happened when a plainclothes police officer entered the business as Godwin
and two others were sharing a joint. The employee actually holding
the joint was charged with possession. Police seized the store's
computer and cash register, as well as Godwin and the cannabis cookie-selling
|Up in Smoke Cafe rally poster
Godwin is a prominent marijuana
activist and no stranger to the Hamilton police, who have made at least
200 visits to his shop since it opened 18 months ago. The shop sells
seeds, bongs, and pipes, and allows smoking (or vaporizing) in a lounge
on the premises. At least 30 Up in Smoke customers have been charged
with marijuana possession as a result of those police visits.
But charging Godwin and his
employee with drug trafficking offenses takes things to a whole new level.
While police characterized the bust as a local operation, it comes during
a week where the Conservative government has been taking pains to talk
tough on drugs.
In an interview with the
Ottawa Sun, new Justice Minister Vic Toewes called for mandatory minimum
prison sentences for violent criminals and some drug offenders, complaining
that monitoring people on probation or parole is a "very expensive proposition."
A few days later, his spokesman, Mike Storeshaw, made it clear that the
Conservative government would not move to decriminalize marijuana, as the
Liberals had tried for the last several years. "It is a short answer
and the answer is no," he responded to a question. "We have no plans
to bring any bill forward."
Last week, Prime Minister
Harper used the occasion of the anniversary of the Mayerthorpe massacre,
where four Mounties were killed in a shootout over stolen property but
marijuana growing was widely blamed because the shooter had a small garden,
to hammer home his party's law and order theme. "Our government is
committed to ensuring the safety of Canada's communities," Harper orated.
"Specifically, that means making sure that those who break the law will
face the appropriate punishment, and providing law enforcement agencies
with the legislative tools and financial resources they need to protect
Canadians. We will do our best to ensure that tragedies similar to
the one which unfolded near Mayerthorpe last year will never happen again."
Up in Smoke was open for
business again Thursday, but given the chill coming from Ottawa, Godwin
and all the rest of Canada's thriving cannabis trade entrepreneurs must
be beginning to wonder what will come next.
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